STUDIO ONE – Studio One's free version is a software I have talked about a lot around here, and often mentioned as a great free DAW. And I still think it is. However let's hear my deeper thoughts that were attained after taking Studio One through an intensive review process: full sound design* for The Jimmy, Sam & Tommy Show Episode 3, “Hog Tickler” (which you can hear by clicking this link).
Let me preface this by saying that sound design for the JS&T show, is very specific and unique compared to sound design I do on other shows. All shows have a “sound design style” that is specific to them, and generally, no two should be designed exactly the same. The JS&T show is not the most sound design intensive show I work on, but it can be very intensive. JS&T requires over the top, over dramatic sound design, to match the characters over the top over dramatic personalities. Basically, Jimmy, Sam and Tommy all take themselves too seriously, so therefore, so does the sound design. Enough about JS&T though, let's get on to the Studio One review. Please note that this review primarily deals with the free version of the Studio One 2 generation. However for part of this time I also ran the trial of the full version of Studio One 3, as well as Studio One Prime, and I note certain differences where applicable. Let's begin!
A pay model that is “my style”.
Studio One has arguably one of the best pay models of any DAW: free, then build upon it. You used to be able to get Studio One Free, which, though now unavailable to the general public (previous users can download it again), has been replaced by a new free version called "Prime".
What is revolutionary about their newest pay model is that you can buy specific features rather than whole editions. What does this mean? Let's say that Studio One Artist has everything you need, but there is one feature that is only available in the pro-edition that you want and that Artist lacks. Now, instead of having to buy Pro just to get that one extra feature, you can simply pay for that one extra feature and get an add on to Studio One. Now that is a sweet deal. I don't yet know if you can do this with the Prime version or not, but if you can, then that means you can get the DAW for FREE and if you later decide there a few features you lack, you can spend a small amount of money buying those add-ons and have everything you need.
PreSonus (not so discretely) indicates this is a retaliation to the headaches that some people have gotten from the likes of Adobe Creative Cloud. In a FAQ on their blog, their answer to the question of whether or not they will be using a subscription model is no, because Studio One 3 is “not a magazine or dessert-of-the-month club. Buy it and receive five activations that can be installed cross-platform.” See more here.
If you check out the comparison chart on their website, you will see that Prime is very full functioned, and as they say, “There's no subscription model with Studio One, so you know what you're getting today but you can customize it with add-on features and content as your needs grow.” Now that's more my style folks.
Studio One also offers a cross-grade deal where you can get a price cut if you prove you own a different DAW (to encourage people to switch). Check that our here.
Browser, a pro and con.
Despite my previous statements in my Cubase review, Studio One's “browser” is actually a decent substitute for Cubase's MediaBay. However I can still cannot search in anywhere near as much detail as I can in Cubase. Still, the browser in Studio One still beats Pro Tools' “Workspace” alternative. One major plus about the Browser is that it doesn't open up a second window, like it does in Cubase or Pro Tools. Studio One excels at keeping everything on one screen, and not covering up what you need to see with pop ups and windows. Studio One's drag and drop mentality really shines here when doing sound design, as I can grab my sound and drag it to it's location, without having to move a bulky window out of the way of my track.
Automation can viewed directly on the waveform instead of just on another track below it (it can do both views). I have this feature in Pro Tools as well (but unfortunately, not in Cubase) and often like to use this to show volume automation on the waveform, and I do my panning automation on a sub-track below it.
(VERSION 3 only) Scratchpad.
The new scratch pad feature is really cool. It allows you to “sketch out” ideas of alternate arrangements and edits in a separate section, without affecting your actual main project. I do this in Cubase by creating a new project and copying everything into it. I like the idea of having an associated scratchpad for this right in your project though. It plugs in with the mentality of my desktop script writing software, “Celtx”, which does the same thing (scratchpad) for text, not audio. What would be an even nicer innovation in the future, would be having the choice to have multiple sequences, just like VideoPad or Adobe Premiere. This would take the scratch pad idea and just make it shine in a whole new way!
(All versions excluding FREE/Prime version) Folder Tracks.
Folder Tracks are something that Cubase has been doing for a while, which was a brilliant innovation. Basically it's a folder, that you put tracks in, so you can group things, and even minimize those groups (like your computer folders). If you haven't used either Cubase or this version of Studio One, it's hard to explain, but trust me, it's a really handy part of making a clean work flow.
Custom Keyboard Shortcuts.
You can change the keyboard shortcuts in the options to switch to the default shortcuts for Cubase, Pro Tools, or Logic if you don't like Studio One's short cuts and are coming from a different DAW. And like in Cubase, You can even assign your own shortcuts to any function! Very handy! I like custom shortcuts, because let's face it, every software has a few overly long keyboard “shortcuts” for things you use frequently, and some real quick shortcuts for things you will never use. It's handy to be able to swap the short shortcuts to the tasks you do frequently.
My Absolute Biggest Gripe with Studio One.
I simply cannot fathom why Studio One has no “select to end” or “select to start” feature. Every other DAW (including more basic ones like Audacity) have this feature, and I use it a lot in Cubase and Pro Tools. When I first started using Pro Tools I found it had a different way of doing this than Cubase did, which I have soon become used to. Sadly Studio One didn't seem to come up with a different way, they just left it out.
Why does this matter? Pretend for a second you are doing sound design for a 30 minute show (like I was in this test). All of the sudden you decide that near the middle you want to add a car horn sound effect and consequently have to move all the clips after that point to be a little bit later in the session. So you what do you do? Well you would want to grab all the clips after that point at once and move them a little farther along in the session. It would take too long to do these one by one, and that would make them out of sync anyway. The only way around this is to zoom all the way out and try and make sure you select over everything after that point with your cursor. But when you're that zoomed out, how do you know that you didn't accidentally miss a short 0.5 second clip somewhere near the beginning or ending? You don't. Not unless you zoom all the way back in again. But what happens if while you zoom in you accidentally click anywhere at all? You lose your selection, and there's no way to undo that command. As you can imagine, you might have to try this a good three or four times before you actually select all the correct clips so you can move them. It may sound small, but this is the single most irritating feature I have found while using Studio One. I couldn't make a full switch to the program until they worked this out. That being said, it's still a great DAW and I do recommend it, I just think that really needs to be fixed.
Eventually I found out you can “select from event to end” which only works for one track. Kind of annoying, but Pro Tools does the same thing (but also has the option to do this for all tracks) and it does come in handy on occasion. If I highlight two tracks and then do this, it does something really strange though. It selects from the start of the selected tracks, the end of the shortest track. I cannot think of a single case where that would ever be a good thing. It seems to grab clips at random too. I really hoped in vain that they had fixed this in Studio One 3. Sadly, they didn't fix this in Studio One 3. Studio One can do this by the keyboard shortcut “Shift + End” (or “Shift + Home” to select everything before a certain spot). If you are using a laptop that doesn't have this key, you can achieve this by going into your options and setting a custom keyboard shortcut. If you prefer to use menus then I am not sure what solution to use, because I haven't found this feature in a menu. However the phrase you should be looking for if you search your menus is “End Extend” and “Start Extend”. Unfortunately this method has one quirk, (oh yay...) it causes the cursor to jump to a random section in the selection, after the selection has been made. To combat this you need to press “L” to go to the beginning of the selection (or “loop”) again. Despite what it seemed, this only works for ONE track, not for all tracks. So that feature doesn't seem to solve the issue I have been having.
Copying external files.
Another con is that Studio One either has to ask me every time if I want to copy external files I add to my project, or I can set it to never copy them. I want it to always copy them, and never ask me. It's just a pointless extra click on an “okay” button every time I add new sounds, that wastes my time.
(FREE edition only) Limitations without a limiter.
Studio One's Free/Prime edition does not have a limiter, which is a very useful tool. It appears the paid version of Studio One does have a limiter though. Not having a limiter becomes extra annoying in this case because Studio One Free will get a little upset if you try to export clipped audio. So unless your volume levels are flawlessly under 0 db, then they won't make it out of the software without giving you an annoying pop dialogue asking you if you really want to export clipped audio. (This is the main reason that, as the footnote states, I used Cubase for the final mix).
(VERSION 3 only) “Love/Hate Relationship” with the Aesthetics.
The new edition has a slightly different look to the visual interface. It's the same style of flat non-bevelled 2D design that Windows 8 (and its corresponding version of Internet Explorer) and newer Android Mobile operating systems boast. If you like this sort of minimalist design, you'll love it. If you are like me and you might like this on a hip website, but not in your software, then it's kind of a let down.
Studio One doesn't appear to have backward compatibility between version 3 and 2. Both Cubase and (especially) Pro Tools seem to have backward compatibility taken care of fairly well.
BOTTOM LINE: Studio One FREE It's a great free DAW. The paid version is an excellent DAW I am sure as well, but for me, I really need that "select to end/select to start" feature I have come to love in Cubase and Pro Tools, and would humbly recommend them as well. But I don't reccomend Pro Tools | First, it was a flop in my opinion. And Studio One Free/Prime outshines it easily. Studio One's Prime, proved again, how PreSonus is smarter than the average DAW maker!**